The Illusion of Spiritual Practice

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By now you know I’m a deconstructionist. I didn’t start out that way, but I’ve learned over thirty years of ministry that we can’t just add something good to our life and hope that it sticks. Lasting change is like a kitchen remodel. The old cabinets and counters must come out if we are to enjoy the kitchen of our dreams.

When it comes to the substructures that uphold our identity, faith, and understanding of the Truth, then deconstruction is often horrifying, threatening, and quite painful. Of course that which replaces the old wineskin is so much superior that it makes the discomfort worth it. Nonetheless, we must all enter the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23).

For decades I’ve been deconstructing spiritual practices with the sole purpose of getting beyond them. Like peeling an onion, one layer gives way to the next. In the arena of spirituality, I’ve wondered: Why do people go to such lengths in spiritual practices? Not only have I interviewed hundreds of people from nearly every religion and perspective, but I have tried nearly every practice that I have been exposed to. You might be interested in what I found, but spoiler alert, if you like your rituals, then don’t deconstruct them or anyone elses.

Atheists believe that there is nothing behind spiritual practice. With no God behind it all, spiritual practice is viewed as an ancestral or genetic bend that makes us want to appease powers greater than us. This is how science describes tribal level consciousness. Ironically, those who tenaciously hold to this view are often appeasing to powers greater than themselves: we wouldn’t want to disappoint Dawkins. My point is that everyone gets pulled into the tractor beam on some level.

I’ve discovered that everybody without exception engages in spiritual practice. Some practice a strict religion to appease a specific god. Others practice mindfulness to appease a nameless energy or the universe. Still other practice to appease themselves. Every tribe has a secret sauce. We all have some experience of proximity to deeper reality which touches our existential questions of being. Some engage this proximity rarely and live mostly unconscious to greater realities. Others rarely leave this proximity, while most bounce back and fourth between.

This reality led me to conclude that spirituality is ontological not orthopraxy. Once these questions emerged in me years ago, I wondered why I needed to go to church anymore. Once the Sunday big show with all it’s songs, prayers, sermons, and superficial greetings were seen as  scaffolding to prop up existential proximity to my Maker, I no longer found anything there that wasn’t accessible anywhere else at anytime.

Sermons are 24/7 on the radio. Prayer is any moment we are conscious. Giving opportunities abound in life and community is the byproduct of living. For those churches that go beyond perfunctory performance, I’m still interested in visiting, but not weekly.

Deconstruction opened me to other practices. I began asking; “What are you experiencing in that practice?” So I began exploring. I’ve tried chanting, meditating, yoga, Tai Chi Cha, walking, countless types of prayer, numerous kinds of worship experiences, speaking in tongues, healing services, guided meditations, TM, acts of service, praying wrote prayers, poetry, symbolism, liturgies, journaling, obedience, fasting, immersion, endless amounts of study of numerous sacred texts, and countless strict obedience to laws, creeds, paths, pillars and techniques. All of these, we are told are the path to God and self awareness.

Here is the big question: Did they all work? The answer is no and yes. Each practice is a mere container and as such it may or may not have any Contents in it at any given time. I certainly have preferences. I can read the bible all day, but if you ask me to chant I can’t do it without laughing at the chanter. I love being in my body, but Tai Chi, Yoga, and walking are too slow and boring. Of course I was told that I wasn’t there yet. That I hadn’t gone through the hard work of learning how to be still or quite, or get out of my head.  I found each tradition has a guru that made me feel like a flunky and their only message is to say; “Wind it tighter, work harder, keep doing it.” 

I’m a man who is biased toward the head, but my gut and heart are not undeveloped. I discovered that there is a spirituality to speed, production, and noise that is completely lost on the slow, still and quiet. Turning me into an introverted, unattached, meditator is not spiritual progress, its the loss of self. It’s the same flaw as trying to turn my previous congregation into extraverted, missional, theologians who debate the bible, it’s ultimately tupperware sales (containers).

My suggestion is this: practice YOUR practice.  Whatever truly feeds your soul, do it. Whatever gives you a profound sense of the transcendent, practice that. I’m convinced that spiritual practice has never brought anyone to God or self awareness. Ironically, that’s always it’s goal. Instead, I believe God graciously shows up within a practice and makes us self aware. God shows up in other experiences too. Omnipresence means there is no “off” switch. Separation from God is the ultimate illusion. Spiritual practices can seriously distort reality by convincing us that we are engaging our Maker on our terms, when in reality, proximity is never on our terms, but Gods. They give us an illusion (bad theology) that we go in and out, close or far from God.

James Finely says the goal of spiritual practice is to assume an inner posture that allows the greatest opportunity to be taken over by that which we cannot control. I know that if the inner posture is receptive and desiring, then any practice will do.  And this just begs the question:

“Why not just live your life with a posture of receptivity to God? By picking and choosing our practices, we show ourselves as atheistic toward some practices, with atheists going one further than you. What if anything and everything is a conduit of divine proximity? Then each and every moment the Creator is coming to us in and as our very life, incarnated as our life. We all stand on holy ground. Whether we eat or drink, we do all things to the Glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). This is not pantheism, but the cosmic Christ being named above, beyond and in all things.

What if spirituality is just this pure? What if the universal and the particular join everywhere? Then what is your Maker saying through your life? Have you overdone it on the pomp? Have you sacralized only some things or nothing at all?

Will your life become your practice?

Don’t ignore your discontent.

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We all feel it at some point in life. There comes a time when we are just “done” with our present situation. We go along in life and then one day, it hits us, our sense of discontent is too strong to ignore. We experience discontent in all things small and large. From the service at a local store, to the products we buy, to the relationships we have and the leadership under which we live, each day discontent works in the background like a low grade fever.

It’s a grind. A constant pressure that creates internal stress. So how do we handle it?

When we experience discontent with a burrito, we simply take it back and ask for another. If we don’t like our computer, phone or car then change requires slightly more from us. If our discontent is found in our career, zip code, marriage or faith then change reaches the level of complexity where most people are willing to settle and just live with it.

The stress of big change is more than the discontent itself.

Discontent has a lot to do with personality. What one person finds intolerable, another person is content to accept. Because of this variation between people, many have concluded that discontentment is just our inner whiner, it’s accommodating our inner Veruca Salt. Nobody likes a complainer, so we created nobility around suppressing discontent. Mood is another factor. Our internal resources can allow us to overlook things one day while we take issue with something smaller on another.

How can we trust something so passing or so fickle? We wouldn’t want to be petty, right?

Spirituality and life coaching spend a lot of calories leading people into contented lives. In these frameworks, discontentment is the dark force to be avoided, its the sin above which we must rise if we would be godly people who accomplish big things. I’m not diminishing the wisdom that admonishes us toward contentment with what we have.  Scripture says: “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). One look a our city dump is a powerful reminder of how our discontent has overcome us in the arena of consumable goods. Discontent can become fuel that takes our selfishness and pride to toxic and destructive levels: its that powerful.

But I’d like to offer another consideration. Discontentment is a portal. Discontentment is an acknowledgement that you can imagine the world slightly better than it presently is. Whether we are talking about tacos or friendships, outfits or spouses, our discontentment is light that illuminates our ability to discern not just good and bad, but better from better still.

Discontentment is a portal both inward and outward.

Inwardly, discontent opens up a moment of sobriety that escapes us otherwise. If you are discontent with your job, you may find yourself sitting in your car before starting work thinking to yourself: “I really don’t want to be here doing this.” Or maybe you are sitting in the moment of discontent and considering all the other things to which you would love to give your time. This isn’t just procrastinating, day dreaming or moping, this is a sacred moment where your life truly hinges in the balance. Discontent is the seed of change. It becomes dreaming and whining when we do nothing about it.

This is why we must not ignore our discontent. Especially if this is not the first time discontent has bubbled to the surface. Going inward and exploring our true motivations, our heart’s cry, and life’s biggest wishes are core anchor points to which we need to hitch or life’s winch. If we ignore this vital inward soul work, we have no choice but to forfeit the longings of our heart. This kind of giving up is the kind that is toxic to the soul or true self. The seed grows greater discontent until life becomes our living hell.

Outwardly,  our discontent is the moment of change. Right now is the only moment any of us can do anything about. Feel trapped in a relationship, a dead end job, or some kind of overly complex dynamic? Guess what, you’re not trapped. There are always options and discontent forces us to explore them. Some solutions are worse than the discontent, but we will never know unless we explore them. Discontent is the necessary pressure to finally say or externalize what we’ve needed to say for a long time. It’s the moment of truth. It’s the point at which nothing is the same afterwards.

So if we ignore our feelings of discontent, we stifle internal and external change, particularly where we are the change agent. Ignoring our discontent is to abdicate our power to change the world and to play the victim who lacks such power. Yes, our discontent will offend some and even create problems for others and ourselves, but it can only do so because it has the power to initiate real, lasting change.

It takes wisdom and soul work to determine if our discontent is really about our comfort, in which case we would do well to temper it, or if it’s a deeper loss of self, in which case we would do well to hear it out. My best advice is to try not to land on either side of the fence. Recognize that our discontentment has the power to initiate huge change and then harness it for positive growth.

The progress of the world and every soul is birthed at least in part from discontent. It’s the privilege and power of bearing the image of God. It’s part of the dominion mandate to be fruitful and multiply, to turn trees into homes, and sand into silicone. So the next time you are discontent, sit with it, be with it, go deep with it.

What you do next could very well change the world or at least your part of it.

To those who can hear the Tune…

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In the years that I’ve been blogging and podcasting, I’ve learned never to underestimate the reach and scope of the message that goes out. I regularly receive emails from distant people who “stumbled” upon this content and have expressed their gratitude. Today’s reflections are not some regurgitated, trite, pithy, sentiments that barely veil the trap of religion that is so common in Christian writing. What you are about to read, are the well worn and tried applications of a deeper message that I barely had the faith to embody but somehow did.

The cost of following this message or Voice, (more of a Tune or Song) into a wilderness of Exile is that no one with even one foot in the establishment could come with me. The turnstile on the narrow path allows only one at a time. Thus, communion is either solely with this Song alone, or with the other weary travelers who like me are following that “something other” familiar sound which escapes definition. Early on, I sought validation or a sense of camaraderie by re-entering the systems of order, definition, hierarchy, and power where control and compliance are valued more than freedom and competence. Of course, regaining what I left was impossible because those who stayed resent and fear the dissidents only slightly less than they resent and fear the object of their pious devotion. Community here is always subject/object and it’s a bitter disappointment to the subject/subject unity of the Exile.

These brief exchanges remind and reaffirm why I followed this Song in the first place. It was a Tune unlike anything else, and I knew it existed before I even reached the tonic note. The nursery rhymes of the herd heap upon my heart an indescribable amount of burden, pain, and sadness for those who label them as the Song. The Exile is not a desert, it’s not isolation, it’s not marginalization, those all belong to the masses under anesthesia whose faith is in their faith and not the power behind it. The Exile is divine union, it’s complete satisfaction, presence, and gratitude, and there is a part of me that wants to put down roots and stay.

However, the moment my tent peg appeals to permanence, like a wind the Song withdraws and blows over the next distant horizon. Inviting as many as I can into this arid, drifting sobriety, I follow the melody that enticed me into the freedom I now experience. When I try to mimic the tune, my pitch and key offend those who are not accustomed to such inner space. When I lower the volume, I torture myself instead.

Each valley and hill offer new perspectives and bring with them new faces who are befuddled with a hungry love of what is next. They are here by their “not knowing”. Love is like that; we just go with it. No reason, no single emotion, nor strategy or design puts us in the Exile, those are for those kneeling to institutional powers who they hope will validate their fake ID’s. It’s the greatest trade in the universe: one’s soul in exchange for an identity not your own. The Exile is the only safe place for those who find this trade unpalatable at any cost. Better to be in search of a true self that has been lost, than to cling in certainty to a false one.

I never thought I could love like I do out here where there is no race, religion, creed, gender, or status. Just a bunch of people who “heard it too” and work together on an endless quest to find our source. Love is easy here. It’s not contrived. It’s free. The obligated will never find it fair. The dutiful can’t work it out. The manipulator produces only vacant strategies. Surface love makes me laugh immediately before I cry, not just for myself for laughing, but for those who cannot let go into the bottomless free fall that is our love.

The Exile is not an escape. It’s ultimate reality. As such it is the power for living. It’s a seeing beyond, that compels us to empty ourselves back into the sleeping world. And strangely, facing others is when the pursuit of the song ends and our true lives begin. Upon facing the world we discover the Song behind us, beside us, above, below and within us. There is a sense in which we have become so permeated by the song that differentiating it from ourself seems dishonoring. Our life is now an invitation to come freely and taste that which is impossible in the captive world’s three-sided cages. For those who take refuge in the false self or within institutional power, our very existence is an indictment that chaffs all the way back to the time they too first heard the song, but exchanged it for the voice of power.

These poetic words are but feeble attempts and metaphors for an inner experience that we all touch at some level. The words are but tiny containers for something so big it seems silly to try and express it. But try I will. Week after week, day after day, I will cry out to any soul that can hear me. I never tire of this, how can we tire of such beauty? I’m not asking you to trust me, I’m praying, even begging, that you will be awakened to the spirit of life and freedom within you, and that you will trust it. It all seems so awkward, or silly or nonsensical, until you’ve oriented yourself from your sleep. Then, once you awaken, you’ll discover that home is not a destination, but the center from which you will live the rest of your life, which just so happens to be eternal.

It’s all as close as this next breath.

I have no idea who this will reach or when it will get to you. When it does, I hope you will let me know. May this be a beacon of hope on your quest for liberation. Reach out to me, so you can join all of us who walk together humming this amazing Tune.

Poor Religious Performance is Good News for the world.

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Given the global scale of world religions and religious practice, it amazes me just how many people actually suck at their religion. Within every community of faith, the vast majority don’t appreciate nor adopt the core tenants of their belief system. Most fall under the umbrella of their religion only nominally.

Pastors, Priests, Imam’s and Yogi’s are constantly teaching their followers to go deeper into their respective practices. Despite their effort to help people get beyond the container, a recent Barna study revealed that two-thirds in the Christian faith are only “casual” believers. In Islam we find that droves of Muslim’s are fleeing fundamental environments in favor of those that will allow the freedom of self-critical thought. In Judaism, up to forty percent are defined as non-religious and only practice through the lens of tradition. Hindu’s and Buddhist’s spiritual practices of yoga and meditation are not even practiced by the vast majority who subscribe to those religions.

For too long people have adopted the label of their religion, but now people are honestly admitting they are not “in.” As a result, there is great decline in mainline religion.

For the zealous who excel within their religion, there often exists a palpable distinction (if not separation) between the holy and the common. Once a person reaches the higher ranks in religion, even though they are venerated by the masses, they end up truly being “Holier than thou” and cut off access to outsiders. This begs the question as to whether their focus is the contents or the container. The Gandhi’s, and the Mother Theresa’s are the rare exceptions. The true masters care very little for their power or notoriety.

With so many modern people opting out of religious frameworks, they are seeking a spirituality that is free floating or unaffiliated. I welcome this trend. The world has grown tired of competitive religions. If we have to prove our religion is better than another, then we have already traded the contents for the container. Low level religion always believes “My God can beat up your god.” Modern people are beyond this.

Jesus put it this way when he quotes the Jewish Shama. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it:  you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40, Deuteronomy 6:4)

This verse is transformational if taken deep within the soul. If the truth of it sinks in, then it’s purpose is to deconstruct any notion that our particular religious system or practice has any value to God if in the end our devotion to God is not reflected in how we love other people. The litmus test is not how high up the ranks of religion we are able to climb, but whether the love of God shows up in how we treat others.

Our love of God is tested by our behavior in traffic. It’s tested by our generosity toward the endless needs around us. It’s tested by how much it costs us to love. It’s never tested by how much theology we posses, or how many hours we’ve spent performing a perfunctory ritual. 

  • If you have to be right instead of loving, you’ve already lost.
  • If your tradition means more than mercy, it’s game over.
  • If your theology is bigger than your compassion, its an empty shell.
  • If your identity hinges on your distinctions, its a false self wrapped in the lie of individualism.

Do the five pillars of Islam eliminate large scale poverty? Does yoga or meditating produce clean drinking water? Does inviting Jesus into an imaginary door in one’s heart bring equality into our world? Does solidarity with a religious tribe end war or produce it? Can religious frameworks help solve the world problems? Yes, but only if they are a means to love, and not a means to themselves.

Inner transformation cares nothing for labels. Divine union sees no division, nor distinctions that override our need to love. Love celebrates both diversity and unity at the same time- it’s not binary. Religions are like schools from which we are all supposed to graduate into an authentic and integrated faith.

This is good news because we suck at religion anyway.

It’s no longer necessary to climb, appease, crawl or try to be something we aren’t. No more posturing, proving, labeling, or scoring. The Apostle Paul says none of it matters (1 Corinthians 13). While religion isn’t bad, it’s just not ultimately helpful unless it exposes our pride and independence. It’s supposed to incubate love, justice and mercy with in us.

If religion so happens to do this, then know that it wasn’t the religious container, but God alone working through ones practice. It’s the work God does through every single atom in the universe. Once we see it everywhere, then all the frameworks resolve themselves into a single location: that of love.

I’m now going to offer a sentence, upon which no single religion could ever improve. If it is said with sincerity of heart, and authenticity of intention, it would comprise every faith in the world. It can be said in any environment and directed toward any being with the result of inner transformation.

Ready for it? Here it is:  “I don’t have to serve you, I get to serve you.”

If we get this right we get everything right, if we get this wrong, we get everything wrong. It’s ok that we suck at religion, perhaps our poor performance has allowed us to break free of its institutional grasp and finally be open to love.



Pay Attention to how you Pay Attention…

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The parable of the sower in Luke 8 is one of those stories that I believe has been misused in the modern church and has created divisions among people. It plays right into a dualistic and judgmental mind. However, when it’s read in the original language and within the context of the following parable, something bigger and more optimistic begins to emerge.

The story tells of a sower who spreads seed over diverse environments. Of course even the disciples didn’t make the connection, so Jesus later explains the meaning of the parable. He tells them that he uses parables as way of teaching all comers (v.10), but emphasizes that those who understand the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven (conscious awareness) (v.10) will hear it as something more than an agricultural tale. Too often this is taught as though Jesus is trying to exclude some from hearing. He’s not, he’s simply pointing out that until they possess experiential knowledge, the deeper meaning will elude them. This is because his audience is diverse people from surrounding towns.

  • Seed: (v.11) The seed is the word or message of God (Logos). This is not exclusively the bible but includes the bible. John 1 tells us the word (Logos) was in the beginning with God and became flesh. John is saying the word is Jesus but also predates Jesus. (physical and non-physical reality) We must understand the cosmic nature of Logos or this parable becomes tribal.
  • Road: (v.12) Seed sown on the path/road doesn’t last long enough to take root. The birds take it. Explained as the devil (evil one or evil person) takes it from their “Kardia”(Heart/Mind/Inner self). The ESV really gets (v.12) wrong when it translates it as a future conditional construct “…they may not believe and be saved.”.  The Greek renders this as a subjunctive, aorist, plural nominative construction meaning: “…not having believed they would be saved.”  In other words, the road is that hostile place where the inner adversarial force convinces us that the message (that God is saving the world) doesn’t apply to us: we aren’t savable.
  • Rocks: (v.13) Seed sown on the rocks takes root (people hear and like the Logos). Though they understand the message, they forsake it during difficult times.  This is not just succumbing to temptation and falling away. Plants can thrive among rocks, he’s explaining how consciousness of the logos is lost if not taken deep into our soul or if it’s known by a false self. “Believe for a while…”
  • Thorns: (v.14) Seed sown among thorns grow well until they are choked out by competing forces. The Greek renders this: “…yet living under the control of cares and riches and pleasures of life they are overwhelmed (oppressed).” This is all about distraction, losing our center, or shifting priorities. While we grow, we remain immature, and our life and faith is somewhat fruitless.
  • Soil: (v.15) Seed sown on good soil hear the Logos in our true or good inner self (Kardia) and life and faith produce results (bear fruit) that endure.

I’m convinced these diverse environments are not so much fixed and therefore applied to people in a fixed way, as they are stages throughout our lives which represent the process of spiritual formation. It’s not as though the seed is thrown once, the parable is that of the Sower, and sowers sow seed repeatedly. While we may be good soil today, there was a time when we each were a path, a rock, or a thorn in regards to the Logos. This should give us grace toward others, not critical examination or hostility toward those who seem to under appreciate the message of God. None of us appreciate it until we are ready (cultivated soil). Suffering makes us ready.

I’m convinced we all become soil because of Part B.

Jesus combines this parable with another by adding (dè) “and” or “Furthermore.” He goes on to say that nobody lights a lamp and then covers it with a bowl (v.16). We don’t put lamps under beds. The light enables the “mover intoers” (those entering) to see (v.16).

While the parable starts with a message that is presently hidden from some (v.10), Jesus is clearly saying it will not be hidden for long. “For there is nothing hidden that will not become evident and nothing secret that will certainly not become known , indeed it will come into the open.” (v.17)  When it comes to the message (Logos) of God , (the message that God is saving the world), this is something that will be evident to everyone.

And then there is this huge “Therefore.”

“Pay attention to how you hear” (v.18). The Greek word ákoúw (hakouo) has many meanings of which are to hear, receive news, understand, obey, or pay attention. The point is that it’s not so much that we hear or pay attention, as much as it is how we pay attention.

If the parable was taught so that “hearing” some may not hear, then the whole point is to pay attention to the deeper meaning found everywhere. People are in various phases of waking up. Paths and rocks will hear but are not awake enough to really understand, they will hear but not hear. Thorns will hear but not always pay attention. Soil is awake enough to pay attention to how it pays attention. Good soil is the conscious observer.

To hear and understand the Logos is to pay attention. Finding Gods message is all about raising ones consciousness. It’s sown everywhere like seeds. The Logos is everywhere. As Richard Rhor says, “Christ is the name for everything.” If you are among rocks and thorns but you pay attention (or have God consciousness) then you will thrive. Consciousness is good soil. Consciousness is to have eyes to see.

Waking up to the message (Logos) is itself the message (Logos). Consciousness creates the flywheel of FLOW in our lives. The more awake we are, the more awake we become. The less awake we are, the more likely we are to lose what we have by drifting off to sleep. This isn’t a threat, it’s the way and flow of life. 

May we all wake up so that we can wake up even more, and see the Glory and work of God in every atom of the universe. May we all be transformed by the awareness of God among us.

Pigs and Another Dimension…

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There is an odd story captured three times in the bible where Jesus heals a demon possessed man (Mark 5:1-21, Luke 8:26-40).  In Matthew 8:28-34 it records two demon possessed men. Jesus delivers the man (or men) by sending their many demons into a heard of pigs who then jump off a cliff. The end result is not a happy town, but one where they begged Jesus to leave.

This story is about deliverance from demons, but what does that mean? Beyond the demons, why did the town want Jesus to leave? Why wouldn’t Jesus let the delivered man go with him?

This town was being oppressed by demon possessed men. People couldn’t live freely along side of them. So, what is a demon and what was actually happening to this town?

In horror movies, demons are dark minions who serve a darker power of Satan and live in another dimension of reality (usually Hell) and occasionally inhabit people and do damage to all that is around them. They are manifestations of evil, hatred, pain and deception. This bible story seems to corroborate Hollywood’s perspective.

When the legion of demons sees Jesus, their negotiation with him illuminates that “something more” (another dimension) is beyond our natural frame of “seeing.”  Demons are aware that there is a “time” (Matthew 8:29) when their power is lost, and they are aware that Jesus is the one to end it. Jesus, apparently aware that it’s not time to judge them, complies with their request to be sent into the herd of nearby pigs. Like all miracle stories, Jesus accesses another dimension, to remove suffering in this one. We would do well to learn from this.

If you’re a pig farmer, then your pigs are your livelihood. If Jesus sends demons into your pigs and they go jump off a cliff, then Jesus just destroyed your business. When the pig farmer ran into town, he wasn’t likely celebrating the deliverance of the man (men). He was telling the town that something worse than the oppressing demons was at hand. The loss of liberty by oppression is often preferred to loss of business.

Jesus will jeopardize the status quo. This city isn’t ready for real healing, it fears change more than the demons it harbors, and that’s precisely why the town harbors demons. The dark forces behind our oppressions and prisons will not take residence in the life that faithfully welcomes transformation. A life that is stifled by fear and resists change fails to recognize that it’s already under the influence of this other dimension.

The heart of this story is found between the lines. This story is found among other stories that reveal how life will require a faith or trust that doesn’t work as we would expect. Following Jesus isn’t a formula, a doctrine, or a rigid system. It’s tapping into a perspective (another dimension) that is paradoxical to our primary assumptions. Faith doesn’t ignore the facts, it simply trusts that there is something more beyond them.

And then there are the pigs.

There is so much suffering in the world. We all face some sort of internal or external oppression. Our “demons” are the squatters who move in to that dimension of our life that we would prefer to avoid. We prefer to think we’re in control. We consume what we know we shouldn’t. We keep repeating that thing we promised to change. We overeat, overspend, over drink, and overdo because moderation doesn’t satisfy that dimension of us that we are powerless to face. We get nowhere not despite our efforts, but because of them. If we long for a life that is liberated from such things, but the work to change it seems too hard, if the hole seems too deep, then we have chosen our oppression.

Like this town, we too often prefer the demons to Jesus. We won’t leave it with the pigs.

Personal liberation isn’t easy. It’s costly. We could lose all of our pigs into the sea, we might lose our businesses, our livelihoods, our communities, our reputations. If we have built our identity around such things, if we think that our job title, our zip code, our social status is who we are, then liberation will cost us our entire life. For some, its too much of a price to pay. An authentic life cannot live in the town of denial.

What about the delivered man (men)?

Jesus pulled from a dimension that allowed him to see the trapped man beyond the demons. His compassion for this man took president over a local business and the distorted ideals of the town. No wonder the delivered man wanted to follow Jesus and leave it all behind. Instead, Jesus sends him back to the town on a mission to remind them about this other dimension. His presence in the town is a daily reminder that there is “something more” to those who fear facing reality. This town can never ignore this other dimension again so long as he lives among them.  The healed man replaces the demons as an alternative form of oppression. Jesus leaves him there as a scourge of love. That is true mission.

Freedom doesn’t always look like we think it should, it eludes our fake ID’s. This other dimension will intersect with us one way or the other. Before us all, within this very moment, we can avoid Ultimate Reality and take on a squatter, or we can forsake all that we think is real, trusting we’ll find the truth.

When we finally get to the place where we desire authenticity so much that we forsake everything else, then we can be sure that our demons have gone and we have entered the kingdom of God.

Calling Women dogs…

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Recently President Trump called a former staff member a dog.  Disappointingly, name calling is a hallmark of this presidency. It’s the immature reflex of someone who is in despair over not becoming a true self. Lashing out is the tribal language of our pseudonym, our adolescent false self. We’ve been examining the true and false self recently and I thought I’d tie this all together with another man who called a woman a dog: Jesus.

Does it surprise you to learn that Jesus called a foreign woman a dog?  The basis for Jesus doing so was not a childish jab stemming from untransformed pain, but instead, it’s a portal through which a deeper conversation transpired.  The result was a foreign woman who teaches us how to be free from the despair of not being a self, and the power of being liberated from racial and religious bigotry, by taking God at his word.

The story in Matthew 15 tells of a Canaanite woman who was crying out to Jesus to heal her daughter who was oppressed by a demon. But Jesus ignores her. Yet she is persistent to the point that his disciples came to Jesus asking him to do something for her or send her away. He says: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (v.25). The women prostrates herself and begs for his help, to which he replies: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to dogs” (v.26). Then she says: “Yes, Lord, but even dogs eat crumbs that fall from their masters table” (v.27). When Jesus sees such faith, he sends her on her way with the daughter healed.

Matthew gives a bit more detail than Mark. There, she calls Jesus “Son of David.” This would have been a title that meant a lot to a Jew, but not to a Canaanite. This woman was a foreigner. She was not only culturally diverse, she would have been religiously diverse, she was a Greek, or a Gentile according to the Jews.

Following her request to heal her daughter, Jesus just ignores her. Then when he does address her, he seems to insult her. What is this all about? The reason this passage is so confusing, is because it seems to contradict the Jesus revealed in the rest of scripture: or does it? While I don’t claim to have this all figured out, I will offer what I think is a reasonable perspective.

Context is everything. Separating this story from the surrounding stories gets us off track. Both Matthew and Mark tell the previous stories as set-ups for this story. In both cases, Jesus is addressing the religious leaders who are criticizing he and his disciples obedience to the religious and moral law. The context is that Jesus is trying to help the disciples understand (v.16). The key question that ties it all together comes in 15:3; “Why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?

Once again, Jesus reframes reality away from religious compliance from the outside in, toward a faith that transforms everything from the inside out (VS 10-20). Jesus exposes just how immoral a person can be inside their heart, even if they uphold all the externals. He exposes that compliance doesn’t transform the ugly, prejudicial parts of us.

For this reason, I think Jesus is making an example of the religious (tribal) mindset in his encounter with this woman. The pious religious would ignore non-Jews (Luke 10:32), so Jesus models for them what that looks like to a foreign woman who is desperate to help her daughter. What is more heartless than to ignore the need of a child? Religion is no protection from racism, in fact it often promotes it.

The Jews viewed themselves as the chosen people. They believed God liked them best, so Jesus reflects back to them just how arrogant this disposition is to the rest of the world. He does this by telling the woman that he was sent ONLY to Israel and that it isn’t right to take the children’s bread and give it to “dogs” (v.24, 26).

When the woman says, “Yes Lord, but even dogs get the crumbs” (v.27) Jesus has had enough. The charade of solidarity to religious rules has gone on long enough. He’s proven that the byproduct of obedience is the diminishment and dehumanization of another. Her faith is now rewarded and her child is healed. She takes him at his word and goes.

By reengaging with her at her point of need instead of deferring her, he is undoing religion at it’s heart (v.19) by reprioritizing people over process. He’s proven his point, religion becomes a place of untransformed pain which passes it to others. He turns religion inside-out by giving what is “ONLY for Israel” to someone who is culturally and religiously diverse. By healing the canaanite’s daughter, he not only shows that he has the power to heal, but that this power is NOT sequestered within a prejudicial tribe or people group. Jesus shows Israel and his disciples what it means when their own prophets teach that “Everyone shall no me (God), from the least to the greatest…” (Jeremiah 31:34)

So what about you? Who is the canaanite in your life? Is it the Muslim, the gay, or the democrat? Is it the atheist, the fundamentalist, or the TV preacher? What people group is “not your people”? Who is easy to call a “dog?” Which team or tribe can you easily diminish as “less-deserving”? Do we break the commandment of God to love others, for the sake of our tradition? Our Tribe? A self (soul) like this woman, that is not defined by the labels, is a free and true self.

Folks this hits us all. Otherness disease is the ugliest part of our humanity. But it can be overcome by taking one sentence deep within our heart.

The next time we think of “those people” we must say this to ourself:

“While I am NOT you, I am not OTHER than you either.”  Then, right before our eyes, we will see a new world emerging from the inside out.

May we all learn something from this faithful foreigner.